BP May Attempt to Plug Oil Leak With Mud Next Week

BP Plc may try early next week to plug an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico by stuffing it with drilling mud, as President Barack Obama named two men today to lead a commission investigating the spill.

Three drilling rigs and 16 remote-operated vehicles are being positioned for the attempt, which could come as soon as May 25, Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, said yesterday at a press conference in Louisiana.

In his weekly address, Obama named Democrat Bob Graham, a former U.S. senator and Florida governor, and Republican William Reilly, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, to lead a presidential commission to investigate the spill and find ways to “prevent a similar disaster from ever happening again.”

BP continues to capture a portion of the oil as it prepares its attempt to stop flow from the well about 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) underwater. The leak began after an April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which London-based BP leased from Transocean Ltd.

The “top kill” method to halt the leak requires mud twice the density of water be pumped into the well using a Helix Energy Solutions Group Inc. rig, Suttles said. The mud should stop the flow so the well can be sealed with cement, he said.

‘Unique Problems’

The method “has been done in land operations and in shallow water, but it has never been done at these depths,” Suttles said. “That presents unique problems.”

BP may skim and burn oil on the surface of the Gulf today and apply chemical dispersants to reduce the amount that washes ashore, John Curry, a BP spokesman, said today in a telephone interview.

“Since the weather is going to be pretty good, we’ll probably use most of our tools today,” Curry said. “We’re just continuing to do what we can to stop the flow and mitigate the impact.”

The beach at Louisiana’s Grand Isle State Park was closed because of oil, according to the website of the state’s Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism.

BP is using a tube to divert some of the spill to a drillship. The company captured oil at the rate of about 2,200 barrels of oil and 5 million cubic feet of gas yesterday, Mark Salt, a BP spokesman, said today in a telephone interview. BP has recovered an average of 2,000 barrels of oil a day since the tube was inserted on May 16, Suttles said yesterday.

Oil Flow Rate

BP said May 20 that the recovery rate had reached the equivalent of 5,000 barrels a day, the same rate it estimated oil was leaking from the well since April 28. That led to criticism from U.S. Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, when a video feed he’d requested from BP showed oil and gas still leaking into the sea.

The 5,000 barrel-a-day rate is still the “best estimate” of the amount coming from the well, Suttles said.

A team of government and academic scientists will calculate how much oil is leaking, Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said May 20. The report is expected next week, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said at yesterday’s press conference.

“Like all of you, and the outside world, I have shared a huge sense of frustration that we have not yet been able to stop the leak,” BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward said in a May 21 e-mail to employees. “Although it can never be quick enough, we are making progress.”

Hayward said the depth of water in which they are attempting the “top kill” method means “we cannot take its success for granted.”

Corexit Oil Dispersant

About 670,000 gallons of Nalco Holding Co.’s Corexit oil dispersant has been applied by ships, aircraft and remote-operated vehicles to break up the oil into droplets, according to a statement from the oil-response command today.

In response to a directive from the Environmental Protection Agency, BP notified the agency on May 20 it had found no alternative to Corexit that is as effective and less toxic, Suttles said.

The EPA directed the company to find a less toxic product because the volume of dispersant used is “unprecedented,” and the damage to sea life may outweigh the benefits. BP is willing to test alternatives in cooperation with the EPA, Suttles said.

The unified command for the spill said yesterday that it won’t use hair “booms” to soak up oil on the water’s surface.

Sinking Hair Boom

“One problem with the hair boom is that it became water-logged and sank within a short period of time,” Charlie Henry, scientific support coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Robert, Louisiana, said in a statement.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers are still evaluating Louisiana’s proposal to dredge sand to fill gaps in eroded barrier islands and protect wetlands from oil, Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen said yesterday during a conference call with reporters.

Ten U.S. Senators, including Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu, asked the U.S. Interior Department in a letter yesterday to lift a ban on offshore drilling permits for shallow-water platforms, considered less risky than deep-water rigs like the Deepwater Horizon.

The ban has been in place while the department reviews the accident on the rig. The senators said $135 million in revenue could be lost if the ban is extended through June, according to estimates from the International Association of Drilling Contractors.

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